This year's International Builders Show in Las Vegas gave Oklahoma builders two kinds of food for thought, some tasty and some tough.
Tasty: Housing is on the upswing in much of the country.
Tough: The building industry lost so many suppliers and manufacturers of construction materials after the bust and five-year collapse that shortages are causing price spikes.
“The mood was definitely more upbeat than the last couple of years,” said Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association. “Recently, you were also afraid to say you were from Oklahoma because we avoided most of the downturn in the economy and the housing industry. We would quietly say our blessings and keep quiet.
“This year, the majority of places are seeing great improvement. Not back to the good old days, but definitely on the upswing.”
However, the industry still has far to go. Mustang developer Robert Crout said he was surprised to learn the extent to which “housing is still slow nationally, which was difficult for me to understand since the market here has been so good. There are areas where there is just no housing market at all.”
Where homebuilding has taken off again, there are labor shortages, said Crout, who is president of the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association. The homebuilding labor market here is steady, he said, because there wasn't enough of a slowdown to cause many subcontractors or workers to move away or turn to other work.
What is being felt here are “very serious price increases” for building materials, he said, partly because some manufacturing plants shuttered as a result of the national bust. Plant closings hit Oklahoma directly in 2008 when Weyerhaeuser Co. closed a container board mill in Valliant in 2008 and a century-old lumber mill in Wright City in 2009.
“The issue that we're having here is even though the cost is going up ... appraisers aren't picking up the increases,” Crout said. “Builders just can't eat those increases.”
At the International Builders Show itself, held Jan. 22 through Jan. 24, the exhibit floor offered the usual variety of new products and services with side orders of “subdued confidence,” said Oklahoma City homebuilder Jeff Click, who is president of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association.
Click said he went specifically to check out new fireplaces.
“It's one of the focal points of design in our homes, and we have a unique clientele, many of whom are willing to put additional money toward stylish design elements. There are a number of really impressive newer fireplace designs that take an otherwise traditional home amenity and turn it into a contemporary element that fits well with our homes,” he said.
On the show floor in general, Click said, “There was an impressive spectrum of the usual big vendors all the way down to the small, one-product companies, but first-time vendors as well. I see that as a sign of life, optimism and a belief that housing still has a significant role to play in contributing to the productivity of the country.”
Click said there will be even more to see — and to bring back to Oklahoma homebuilding — at next year's show.
“One of the most exciting things announced was that beginning next year, the International Builders Show will co-locate with the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, which will dramatically increase both floor space and attendance. ... (The International Builders Show) is already one of the largest trade shows in the world, so I can't imagine how bad my feet will hurt after walking it in its entirety next year.”